30 July 2007


30 July 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Ashraf Kamal, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good Afternoon.

**Secretary-General Appointments

I have two senior appointments by the Secretary-General to announce:

Noeleen Heyzer of Singapore will head the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).  And Mr. Bader al-Dafa of Qatar will become the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

Ms. Heyzer, you will recall, has been the first executive director from the South to head the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), where she has worked to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality.  She played a critical role in the Security Council adoption of resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security.  She will replace Kim Hak-Su of the Republic of Korea, who has held the post of Executive Secretary of ESCAP in Bangkok since 2000.

Mr. al-Dafa has recently served as Ambassador of Qatar to the United States, and Permanent Observer to the Organization of American States.  His long and distinguished career includes representing his country in the Russian Federation, France, Egypt and Spain.  Mr. al-Dafa will begin his Beirut-based appointment early in August.

We have comprehensive bio notes available for both of them upstairs.

** Iraq

Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, joined in the national jubilation on Sunday afternoon, congratulating the Iraqi football team on its well deserved victory that gained Iraq the Asian Cup.  Qazi said that the determination and ability that Iraqis brought to the game were a reminder that Iraq possesses so much potential, and he urged Iraqis to come together to realize it in other aspects of the nation's life.

We have that statement upstairs, as well as one concerning Mr. Qazi’s reaction to the execution earlier this month of the man who had been convicted on a number of terror-related offences, including the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August 2003.

Qazi noted his previous statements on capital punishment in Iraq and stressed the importance of fair trial principles that must be applied during criminal proceedings in the context of the fight against impunity, and in accordance with human rights treaties to which Iraq is a signatory.  He reiterated his hope that the Government of Iraq would abolish the death penalty and prevent further executions.

** Lebanon

The Field Artillery Group, part of the Quick Reaction Force of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), today carried out a major live fire training exercise near UNIFIL headquarters at Naqoura in southern Lebanon.  The aim of the exercise was to hone the skills and expertise of the battle group.

In that six-hour period, the battle group fired 76 rounds of artillery at targets located off the coastline.  There are more details in a press release from UNIFIL.

** Afghanistan

Turning to Afghanistan, UNICEF says that security incidents in schools and threats against students and teachers have continued to disrupt education in Afghanistan this year.

Over 30 attacks have taken place in schools during the first six months of the year, while deliberate attacks on girls and female teachers have resulted in at least four deaths and six injuries so far this year.  There’s more information in today’s briefing notes from Kabul on this and other developments.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo earlier today welcomed the sentences imposed by a Congolese court on nine government soldiers convicted of killing 31 unarmed civilians a year ago.  Most of the victims were persons displaced by the armed conflict that has plagued the Democratic Republic of the Congo in recent years.

The court in Bunia, the capital of the north-eastern Ituri province, found the nine defendants guilty of war crimes, rape, arson, pillage and murder.  They were given life sentences, including life in prison for the leader of the murderous assault near Bavi, in Ituri, on 11 August 2006.

The UN Mission said that, while the ruling sends a strong signal against impunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, much more remains to be achieved.  It called on the authorities to vigorously pursue other similar cases.

** Côte d’Ivoire

In Côte d’Ivoire today, the “flame of peace” ceremony marked the official launch of the disarmament process in the country, an event where United Nations peacekeepers helped to provide security.

The ceremony took place in Bouaké -- the stronghold of the former New Forces rebels.  President Laurent Gbagbo and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro set fire to weapons handed over by the rebels in a symbolic act of reconciliation.

Burkina Faso’s President -- the facilitator of the Côte d’Ivoire peace process -- attended the ceremony, as did the presidents of South Africa, Togo, Benin, and Guinea-Bissau.

The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire’s (UNOCI) Officer-in-Charge, Abou Moussa, and a delegation of senior officials were also present.

** Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, the United Nations and representatives of the international community in Sierra Leone welcomed the positive steps taken so far by the Government of that country ahead of elections planned for 11 August.

In a joint statement, the UN and its international partners noted that the National Electoral Commission has conducted a very successful voter registration.  Other preparations for the poll, ballot counting and subsequent disclosure of final results are well on track.  The UN and its partners, however, expressed concern over increasing cases of intimidation and violence.  They view this development with utmost concern, and call on all parties to promote a peaceful campaign.

And last week, in Freetown, the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General for Sierra Leone, Victor Angelo, was the keynote speaker at the opening of the National Youth Dialogue.  He said in that speech that the youth will have an enormous impact on the outcome of the August elections because 40 per cent of the registered 2.6 million are under the age of 27.

**Security Council

Here at United Nations Headquarters, the Security Council this morning voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) by another six months, until the end of January 2008.

**Flash Appeal for Lesotho Drought

On Lesotho, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, is urging the international community to fully fund a nearly $19 million flash appeal.  Earlier this month, the Government declared a state of emergency in the wake of the country’s worst drought in 30 years.  Mr. Holmes did give you a briefing on this last week.

Last week, the Central Emergency Response Fund allocated nearly $4 million to jump-start emergency programmes, including therapeutic feeding centres, agricultural inputs and emergency food assistance.  There’s more information on this upstairs.

**Secretary-General in San Francisco

Just to recap:  the Secretary-General, as you know, ended his official visit to San Francisco, California, with a joint press conference with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  At that event, he invited the Governor to address the high-level informal dialogue on climate change, which is planned for 24 September.  The Governor agreed to attend.

Earlier that day, the Secretary-General and the Governor toured a local company that is developing new energy-saving technologies to combat climate change.

The Secretary-General, as you know, was in San Francisco to mark the sixty-second anniversary of the founding in that city of the United Nations and discuss climate change with California’s leaders.

** United Kingdom Climate Change Event

Just to flag for you, in response to some questions we’ve been getting in the Spokesperson’s Office, the United Kingdom’s Mission is hosting an event on the Millennium Development Goals with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at United Nations Headquarters early tomorrow morning.  UN Television will cover the whole event live.

In view of space constraints, access is by invitation only, according to the UK Mission.  The UK Mission will issue the Prime Minister’s speech as soon as possible after delivery.  The Secretary-General will also have remarks in response which, of course, we will make available to you too.

**Max King

And in the good news department, I’m delighted to be able to send a welcome message to Max Rene King, newly born son of SABC’s Nathan King and his wife Cristina.  Max arrived last night, and he and his mum are doing great. 

Congratulations to the entire King family.

That’s all I have for you.  We have Ashraf here to brief you on the General Assembly and tomorrow’s climate change meeting.  So if you have nothing ... yes, Benny.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Last week, the Human Rights Council issued a statement basically saying it downgrades its relations with the Secretary-General due to his statements about its statements singling Israel out.  Does the Secretary-General have any response to it and does the Commissioner have any thing to say about it as far as you know?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’re talking about the Human Rights Council President?  I have not seen anything from the Human Rights Council President.  As far as the Secretary-General is concerned, I’m sorry, I didn’t bring ...  Excuse me?

Correspondent:  There’s a resolution there ...

Deputy Spokesperson:  You wanted the Secretary-General’s response to some remarks made by ...

Question:  It’s after a resolution made by the Human Rights Council that it will downgrade its relations with the Secretary-General.  I don’t even know what that means, but I want his ... is he upgrading, is he downgrading ...?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you’re referring to some press remarks that were brought to our attention.  I believe it was referring to reported remarks made by one delegation in Geneva.  As far as the Secretary-General’s comments on the work of the Human Rights Council, I can only refer you to his latest statement made on that; I believe that was in June.  Masood?

Question:  I just want to find out about Iraq.  Over the weekend, it was reported that Iraqi refugees from Turkey are being sent back, and there was some concern about that.  Is there a figure of how many Iraqi refugees and how many children have been affected by this spate of violence in Iraq and are still existing in Iraq at this point in time?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On the issue of refugees, I would refer you to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).  They have been referring to something like 2 million Iraqi refugees.  I’ll get you the specific breakdown on which countries they are in.  I don’t have anything specific on the press reports that you referred to about refugees in Turkey, but, as you know, the UN refugee agency is mandated to protect any asylum-seekers.  On the number of children.  Just as a general rule, refugee children generally make up more than half of a refugee population.  In fact, women and children make up about 80 per cent of any refugee population.

Question:  In the wake of the drawdown of the British soldiers from Iraq, which is happening even now as we talk, they’re talking about it on the White House, is the United Nations forming any plans to get involved more in Iraq, as has been requested by the United States?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know specifically the press reports you refer to, but the United Nations, especially the humanitarian agencies, are always looking for ways to try to step up assistance where they can.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the UN is currently working on a new humanitarian operation plan involving both UN agencies and NGO partners.  OCHA notes that the overall needs are believed to be much larger and more complex than currently understood, owing to the difficulties in access and availability of information.

In the meantime, the UN continues to provide humanitarian assistance to Iraqis.  The World Food Programme (WFP) is providing assistance through a three-year, $60 million emergency operation.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) helps conduct measles, mumps and rubella campaigns and also distributes essential learning materials, and as we mentioned just recently, both UNICEF and UNHCR have recently issued a $130 million joint appeal to try to get tens of thousands of Iraqi children back in school who have been unable to do so.

Question:  One last question.  Has the Secretary-General made the decision on who is going to be his new special representative in Iraq?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The appointments I have today are the ones I read out.  I have nothing on that.

Question:  I have two questions.  One, I wondered if there is any update about the Korean hostage situation in Afghanistan. 

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.

Question:  The second question is, I wondered if the Secretary-General has any comments or thoughts about supposedly some people were removed from his presentation in San Francisco on Thursday who were trying to ask a question about the enforcement of the General Assembly resolutions about Palestine, and they reported that there was no way to ask such a question and they were removed for trying.  Is there any comment ...?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of anything like that.  My understanding is that there was a small protest during his address to the World Affairs Council, involving gay rights.  I think there’s a reference to that in the Secretary-General’s statement that he gave there.

Question:  Two questions.  One, it’s reported that in Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army has said no more negotiations in which Mr. Chissano is involved, unless they get $2 million to move their people.  The report in Uganda says that the UN turned them down for these funds.  Can you confirm that the UN was asked and turned them down ...?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I can’t, but I can look into that for you.  It’s the first I hear of this.

Question: Okay.  The other is this United Nations Communications Group (UNCG) I asked you about before.  We now have the minutes and it seems to say that the head spokespeople of 37 funds, programmes and agencies are putting under review the accreditation of new media that should be kept under review.  So I’m wondering:  has any review taken place since late June?  Who is doing the review?  If it’s the Secretariat, then what the Secretariat’s position would be if a fund or programme of the UN adopted a policy of not answering questions by a particular media organization. 

Deputy Spokesperson: As you know, these criteria are something that the Department of Public Information is charged with.  What I can tell you from what I’ve received from them:  The media accreditation criteria at UN Headquarters, which is available on the UN website, have not changed.  At the meeting to which you refer in Madrid -- it was a Communications Group meeting -- there was a wide-ranging discussion on the UN’s engagement with new media -- how best and most practically to meet information requests while continuing to serve traditional media.  That’s what I have for you.

Question:  But can you respond to reports that at this meeting, two agencies, at least the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), have discussed not responding to questions from particular media organizations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The UN can only speak for the Secretariat, so we cannot speak for UNDP and WHO.  You might want to refer the questions to them. 

Question: I guess I was asking what would be the Secretary’s [sic] position if -- because he spoke by videoconference to this UNCG.  So did Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro.  So it seems like they are taking the lead in the UN’s communications strategy.  Are you saying that they have absolutely no power over what agencies do, in terms of ...?

Deputy Spokesperson: As you know, the UN Communications Group brings together all entities within the UN system to discuss various aspects of public information.  My understanding is that media accreditation at Headquarters was a small part of that discussion.  As far as these other organizations are concerned, you’d really have to ask them the questions about their decisions.

Question:  There’s also a report that Michael Williams will be leaving his post with the Secretary-General to become the United Kingdom’s envoy to the Middle East.  Do you have any comments to confirm that?  Has he given notice?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I cannot confirm that.  I don’t think there’s anything official to announce.  As far as the Secretary-General is concerned, he will respect Mr. Williams’ decision.

Question: I would like to know, in the light of recent media reports regarding Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari’s letter to Nigeria’s Vice-President, what is the involvement of the United Nations in the reconciliation efforts in Nigeria’s Niger Delta?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think at this point it’s exploratory, but I can try to find out more for you. 

The Deputy Spokesperson later added that Mr. Gambari had written to the Nigerian Government recently about the Niger Delta.  This is a discussion that has been going on for some time now, and was raised between the Secretary-General and the President of Nigeria on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Germany.  The UN has indicated its willingness to work with the Government of Nigeria in finding ways to achieve peace and sustainable development in that region.

Okay, if there are no other questions -- Ashraf?

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Hello, everybody.  Hi, Benny.

**Thematic Debate on Climate Change

You already know about the General Assembly thematic debate on climate change taking place tomorrow and Wednesday.  The two-day meeting will feature interactive panel discussions with climate change experts, a plenary debate with statements on national strategies and international commitments by Member States, as well as addresses by the Assembly President, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and two of his Special Envoys on climate change, former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and former Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung-soo.

The debate, which will mark the first time the General Assembly has ever devoted a session exclusively to a discussion of climate change in plenary, will be carbon neutral.  The emissions from the air travel to bring experts to the debate and the entire carbon-dioxide emissions of the United Nations Headquarters, are being offset by investment in a biomass fuel project in Kenya.

The fuel switch project in Kenya supports the use of agricultural waste instead of traditional fossil fuels to power a crude palm oil refinery, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating new economic opportunities for local farmers.

We can provide you more background information on the carbon offsetting and the Kenya project.

The Office of the President is funding the carbon offset from its budget for the debate and the debate is funded by contributions from the UN Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the European Commission and the Government of Japan.

Just to give you a little about this, the carbon emissions from the travel of the panellists to here is equal to about 43,300 kilogrammes and the emissions by the Secretariat in two days is about 52,890 kilogrammes of C02.  This is being offset by funding the project in Kenya.

Question:  What’s the project?

Spokesperson:  It’s a carbon-offsetting project, a carbon-neutral project.  Basically, you use natural waste, bio-waste, instead of emitting carbon dioxide from carbon fuels.

In connection with the debate, we will have, tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. here in room S-226, a press briefing by three of the panellists -- Sir Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics, Jim Rogers, the Chairman and CEO of Duke Energy, and Sunita Narain, a writer and environmental campaigner based in India -- on what they think is necessary to move forward in addressing climate change.

Also on Wednesday, at 11:15 a.m., there will be a press briefing by Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

Further details on the debate are available on the GA website.  Just for your information, Reuters beat everybody to a story today about the thematic debate and about the UN becoming carbon-neutral for two days.

That’s all I have.  Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question: I wanted to know what is the attitude of the General Assembly to the issue of the Officeof Special Adviser for Africa.  Is the General Assembly trying to hold some consultations?  Has the Secretary-General initiated any moves, considering that the General Assembly has had a mandate to establish the office?

Spokesperson:  As I said last week when this was announced, this is something that the Secretary-General has to address, but if he needs the good offices of the President, the President is more than willing to look at it.

Anything else?  Nothing for me, Matthew?  Alright, have a good afternoon.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.